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Marine biologist pleads not guilty to feeding killer whales

February 3, 2012 | 11:12 am


A prominent marine biologist and whale-watching tour operator has pleaded not guilty to illegally feeding killer whales in a Monterey Bay marine sanctuary, a violation of federal wildlife provisions.

Nancy Black, owner and operator of Monterey Bay Whale Watch, was indicted in San Jose federal court last month and charged with violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which bars harming, harassing, feeding and otherwise interfering with marine mammals, including dolphins, sea lions and whales.

Black entered her plea Thursday, the Monterey County Herald reported. She was required to surrender her passport and submit to drug testing, routine requirements even though the charges she faces are misdemeanors.

The four-count indictment accuses Black of twice feeding killer whales in the marine sanctuary — once in 2004 and again in 2005. The indictment also alleges that she altered a video showing possible illegal contact with an endangered humpback whale during a whale-watching trip in October 2005, then lied to investigators about doing so.

Black's tours and research aboard her company's whale-watching vessels — the 70-foot Sea Wolf II and the 55-foot Pt. Sur Clipper — have been featured extensively in local media and have appeared on the "Today" show and the "CBS Evening News."

Black's attorney, Lawrence Biegel, said his client was gathering scientific data and broke no laws when she filmed the behavior of killer whales feeding off free-floating pieces of blubber from a gray whale calf.

He said Black and several assistants cut a hole in the blubber and used a rope to secure it close to her 22-foot inflatable research dinghy so she could film killer whales with an underwater camera as they approached to eat it.


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-- Steve Marble

Photo: Killer whales pass off the coast of Newport Beach. Credit: Bob Chamberlin/ Los Angeles Times